Well hello there! In just two days I'm going to embark on the biggest adventure of my life so far & I can't wait. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, before a missionary departs they are given the opportunity to speak. The following post is a copy of my talk & it describes why in the world I would want to put my life on hold and leave my family (who I love SO much) for 18 months!
My name is Sarah Willes and I have been called to serve in the Nicaragua Managua North Mission. I’ve wanted to serve a mission for a very long time and I can’t wait to be a missionary. When I first got my call I was so excited so naturally I tried to find all of the information I could about Nicaragua. I was able to find a blog from another Sister that served in my mission and I’d like to share a part that so adequately describes how I feel. She says,
“I LOVE this Gospel, I KNOW it is true and I MUST share it. I can't wait to find my brothers and sisters in Nicaragua that have been waiting for me. I can't wait to tell them everything will be okay and give them hope and peace. Everyday I am terrified, but the Lord strengthens me. He helps me remember this day, the day I opened my call, and the feeling of my heart growing five sizes to fit the people of Nicaragua in it. He reminds me this is the most important work in all the world and how blessed I am to be a part of it.”
My desire to serve a mission came when I first gained a testimony. As my testimony has grown over the years, my desire to serve has become stronger and it has been confirmed to me many times over the years that I should serve a mission.
Both of my parents are return missionaries, and for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be just like them. If you know my parents, you understand why. One of my favorite things to do is to be with my mom. From a very young age I have admired her wisdom and the spirit that she radiates. My dad has always been a great teacher, just like the Savior. He also has one of the greatest and softest hearts I have ever known. Growing up in a home where they taught me gospel principles helped me apply them as I grew up, and I quickly discovered that the gospel was what made me the happiest. In this past April General Conference, Elder Wilford W. Andersen said,
“In section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord taught Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (verse 2). We learn the dance steps with our minds, but we hear the music with our hearts. The dance steps of the gospel are the things we do; the music of the gospel is the joyful spiritual feeling that comes from the Holy Ghost. It brings a change of heart and is the source of all righteous desires. The dance steps require discipline, but the joy of the dance will be experienced only when we come to hear the music.”
I was blessed to hear the music of the gospel from a very young age, and I have desired to hear the music every day since.
I have also had the opportunity to go on some humanitarian trips to different parts of the world. On one of these trips I was at a worksite helping to build bathrooms for a school. A little boy came up to me and a group of girls as we were packing up for the day and we realized that he was deaf. Luckily one of the girls I was with had taken a couple years of sign language in high school and she started to sign with him. As she told us what he was signing, my heart broke. He told her that the other children would tease him and chase him because he was deaf. I remember thinking, He already lives in a place that is poor and where his needs are not met. How is it fair that he has this disability? I wanted so badly to sit down with this little boy and explain to him that there was a God that loved Him, and He knew exactly what he was experiencing every day. At this point in my life my desire to serve a mission expanded ten fold because I realized that even though I was doing good by serving these people, the best thing we can do for someone else is give the gospel.
Another reason my desire to serve a mission grew is beautifully illustrated in a talk given by Elder Bednar in the October 2014 General Conference. It is a talk titled, Come and See, and it explains why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints always has been and always will be a missionary church. I remember hearing this talk for the first time and tears coming to my eyes because it so perfectly described why I wanted to serve a mission. In it, he shares a story about his son who gets injured in a small accident while playing with his older brother and some friends. He and his wife decide to watch their two sons react to what has happened. They go inside and clean the wound with dish soap, which causes the son that is hurt to be in a lot of pain. After it is cleaned, the older brother finds a tube of medicated ointment. Even though the scratches weren’t very extreme, the older brother applies almost the whole entire tube of ointment on the little brother’s arm. Well you can only imagine the joy the little brother felt after feeling the soothing ointment after the dish soap. Elder Bednar then states,
“What happened next is most important. The injured brother gathered up the remaining bandages and the almost empty tube of ointment, and he went back outside. He quickly sought out his friends and began to put ointment and bandages on their arms. Susan and I both were struck by the sincerity, enthusiasm, and rapidity of his response.”
Using this analogy, the wound on the little brother’s arm can symbolize many different things. It can be a lack in self esteem, someone who has made a decision they regret, a death of a friend or family member, or any other problem that we deal with in life today. The ointment then symbolizes the gospel & more specifically the Atonement. Elder Bednar continues,
“We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have felt the anguish associated with spiritual uncertainty and sin. We also have experienced the cleansing, the peace of conscience, the spiritual healing and renewal, and the guidance that are obtained only by learning and living the principles of the Savior’s gospel.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ provides the cleanser necessary to be made pure and clean, the soothing salve to heal spiritual wounds and remove guilt, and the protection that enables us to be faithful in times both good and bad.”
The Atonement of Jesus Christ means that we can be forgiven, and that we will have an opportunity to return to the presence of Heavenly Father after this life. What a beautiful message that is! I love this story because it applies to each one of us so well. None of us are perfect, and the fact that we have the salve of the Atonement is the biggest blessing there is. Because of this, the message of the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ is a message of hope & light.
In Alma chapter 36 Alma testifies to his son Helaman about his conversion. He tells Helaman how when he was young he went about destroying the church of God & God sent an angel to stop him. And when he sees this angel, he as it says in verse 12, was “racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins”. That doesn’t sound very pleasant at all. But it in the midst of this, He remembers his father, talking about a Savior who atoned for the sins of the world. He then tells his son in verse 20,
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so biter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as my joy.”
The miracles of the atonement can soften any heart, change any attitude, and bring hope into even the darkest of moments. To me, there is no greater knowledge than to know that you can always start again.
Elder Bednar closes his talk by saying,
“The invitations we extend to you to learn about and test our message grow out of the positive effects the gospel of Jesus Christ has had in our lives. Sometimes we may be awkward or abrupt or even relentless in our attempts. Our simple desire is to share with you the truths that are of greatest worth to us.”
I love this because it acknowledges that sometimes we are not the best at being missionaries. We are human, and we don’t know how to handle every situation perfectly. I know that over the years I have missed and maybe even failed at many attempts to share what I believe. Hopefully over the next 18 months I will get a little better at it because I love this gospel so much and I don’t want anyone to miss out on hearing this beautiful message. Like the little boy in the story, I want to go show all of my friends something that has brought such a light into my life.
And as Joseph Smith put it, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel.”
Last but certainly not least, I could not talk about why I want to serve a mission without mentioning our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My love for the Savior runs deeper than anything else I have ever experienced.
In one of the scrapbooks my mom made when I was little there is an entry made in the year 2000. It says, “I will never forget Easter Sunday that year. Sarah’s teacher taught the children in her class the Easter story and about how Jesus died on the cross. Sarah came home from church literally sobbing. She was so upset that people had been so awful to Jesus and had put him to such a painful death. It took us several hours and all through dinner to calm her and help her understand that yes, indeed, Jesus had died, but that the real purpose of Easter was to celebrate the fact that he had overcome that death and now lives again. I will never forget her tender little feelings and concern about Jesus, whom she had come to love.”
I love to reflect on this story because even though I can’t remember it, it makes me feel pretty good about myself. ;) But also whenever doubts or uncertainties start to creep in, I remember that my testimony is anchored in Christ. And there is no one better to rely on.
In the document The Living Christ it states,
“He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth.
He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary’s cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.
We solemnly testify that His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.”
Every time I think about the Savior and His life, I am overcome with gratitude. I know that I will never be able to repay the Savior for what He has personally done for me, but I want to do all that I can. I know that as I serve for the next 18 months as a representative of Christ I will come to know him like I never have before. Like the words from a primary song, “I did not touch him, or sit on his knee, yet Jesus is real to me.”
As the time to leave gets closer and closer, my mom has always asked me, “So what are you going to tell yourself on the hard days?” As I pondered this question a quote from Sister Hinckley came to mind. She talks about how when she arrives at the pearly gates she doesn’t want to have beautiful hair or clothes but she wants to have different things on her that showed that she spent her life serving people..like tears on her shoulder from a friend or peanut butter from making sandwiches for sick neighbors children. She says this because she wants the Lord to know that she was really here and that she really lived. I hope that it’s ok with her, but she inspired me to make kind of a motto for my mission.
“I want to come home with shoes barely staying together from walking miles every day to find more people to share the gospel with. I want to have calloused hands, blisters, and bug bites from doing anything I could to serve the people I met. I want my scriptures to be worn from reading and studying every day I served. I want dirt to cover my clothes to remind me of the humble places where the people lived. I want tears rolling down my cheeks because I know that I gave it everything I had, even on the days I thought about going home. I want the Lord to know that I really was in Nicaragua and that I really served.”